News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 1, 2012

MARK BENNETT: Year of the River a common interest for diverse entities

TERRE HAUTE — Water can compel people to get better acquainted.

It happened to Terre Hauteans in June 2008. When the floodwaters rose, neighbors who’d previous only waved “hello” were suddenly standing side by side in a sandbag line, or pulling out soaked carpeting together, or sharing a sump pump. It was a difficult circumstance for introductions, but it worked.

A waterway is once again causing local folks to shake hands, listen and join forces — under less chaotic conditions.

The 50 people gathered in the Vigo County Public Library on Tuesday morning probably had never before been in the same place at the same time. A common interest in the Wabash River led them there. Representing arts, outdoors, education and historical organizations, they came with ideas for a yearlong celebration of the Wabash, a project known as 2013: Year of the River.

A member of a Native American group, a representative from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and a special collections expert at the Indiana State University Cunningham Memorial Library sat at one table discussing possibilities for river-related events next year. Leaders of the Terre Haute Concert Band suggested its 2013 schedule of performances at Fairbanks Park could pair up with other groups’ Wabash-based activities at the park. The Nature Conservancy, the Vigo County Parks Department and the Wabash Valley Roadrunners all talked in the same room.

The project’s organizers — Mary Kramer of Wabash Valley Art Spaces, Jon Robeson of Arts Illiana and Steve Letsinger of Rose-Hulman — updated the attendees on planning, and then fielded what-ifs and questions. Kramer used several pages of a poster-size notepad to jot down ideas and scheduling dates. Afterward, the brainstorming continued in smaller groups.

The Year of the River is intended to raise awareness about the community’s often-overlooked, unique natural resource. Preparations for that ambitious project are also raising awareness about our fellow Hauteans. Tuesday’s post-meeting conversations reflected that aspect.

“People really started to realize the networking potential,” Kramer said.

The energy was impressive, especially in a town once described as “sleepy” and “a model of stagnation.” Neither label fits Terre Haute, and those who participated in the session could verify that. In talking, they learned just how busy the other organizations are, and how their hopes and goals actually align. Many already conduct activities connected to the river’s looks, ecology or history, and the Year of the River celebration may shed a brighter spotlight on their events. Some are making special plans for the 2013. That could mean concerts, raft competitions, art exhibits, debris cleanups, the unveiling of new Wabash-inspired musical compositions, and environmental workshops, among many others.

The Year of the River organizers are simply offering to serve as a “clearing house” for those plans. They’ll help coordinate the schedule and neatly present each event through a website, and a Year of the River logo and poster. The logo and poster will emerge from local design competitions.

That’s the beauty of this endeavor. It’s grassroots. The imagination comes from the people. If your organization has a connection to the Wabash or can assist in teaching about, beautifying or celebrating the river, then 2013 offers a perfect opportunity.

“People have called us and said, ‘What is this, and how can we get involved?’” said Robeson. An email is a starting point. Organizations with an event that could possibly collaborate with the Year of the River project can send that information to

info@wabashvalleyartspaces.com.

As Letsinger told the gathering earlier this week, “If we can pull these things together, we can create such joy.”

At the least, next year could turn into one fascinating moment in the community’s history. Ideally, the Year of the River will remind people here and elsewhere that Terre Haute values the stream that inspired the Indiana state song, brought pioneers to town, sustained industries, and serves as home to both human and wildlife.

Once the 2013 festivities are over, we’ll know each other a little better.

“I hope there’s a strong realization of who we have been and who we are,” Letsinger said.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

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